Twelve months ago the Federal Government placed the country in lockdown and bars across the country were forced to close their doors.
We all know what followed, many pivoted, while others stayed closed choosing to wait out the lockdown. When venues were allowed to finally start reopening severe capacity restrictions still made it a debatable call on whether to open the doors again.
What the capacity restrictions did do, was force many operators to think about exactly how they had been operating pre-COVID, and re-evaluate their bars and the offering available.
For Dap & Co, the team behind The Gresham and several other venues in Brisbane this process the introduction of at-table-service for The Gresham. Now, that move has proved so successful that the team has kept the service in place and it is working wonders for the bar.
“The Gresham is now eight years old and we were looking at and we had been talking about doing table service in there pre-COVID,” Co-Owner Andrew Baturo told Bars and Clubs.
“It’s something that we loved after seeing it in some great bars in New York. And we felt The Gresham was mature enough and was the right venue to provide people with a table service environment. It gives us the opportunity to show our whisky knowledge, our cocktail knowledge, our spirit knowledge at the table, in a more patient and less frantic environment than being three-deep at the bar.
“It has worked for us. We have seen the spend on whiskies and cocktails has gone up. It certainly seems a lot more measured in terms of the environment in the bar. It’s feels a lot less frantic and busy particularly in the peak periods and people are getting down there earlier to get a table and they are coming in after dinner, to be served again at a table.”
He added: “It’s really hit the mark for us. It took a while to get used to it, but it’s really working. The staff we have in The Gresham are some of the best in Australia, if not the world, and I feel like they have really got the opportunity to showcase what they know.”
Baturo told Bars and Clubs that they’ve modeled the service on being in a restaurant so that when people sit down everyone gets a drinks list, which means they can all take their time to look through the menu and also ask the bartenders about different drinks.
“If drinking is not a place where you can explore your tastes and senses, then what is? And to go to a place where you can take your time to explore a menu, ask some insightful and wonderful questions and get someone who is really knowledgeable to answer those questions, I think it’s a place where you can be really positive and confident in the choices you are making even though you might be spending a little bit more money.
“But that’s the point of trying something premium, you can have the confidence in that decision re-enforced by the knowledge of that bartender.”
And it is The Gresham’s bartender who are serving patrons at the table, and Baturo added: “You know bartenders, they love a bit of a stage, they love to banter and have a chat and now we are now saying ‘go ahead – banter and chat’.”
Baturo also explained one advantage is that if four or five guys had walked into The Gresham pre-COVID, they may have all decided to have a beer so they get into a round and there is very little opportunity for a bartender to upsell a spirit or cocktail because the person at the bar would be separated from their friends.
“Now,” he explained, “you don’t have to do that when everyone is sitting at the table and looking at their own menu and deciding what they want. It’s great because it is no skin off our nose if those want to buy five different things and ask 20 different questions. And even if they do want five beers, we can talk to them about making it a Boilermaker, so it’s great for us and it’s fun.”
“People are getting down there earlier and they are staying longer.”
The table service ends at midnight, as Baturo said they get a lot hospitality people coming into the venue and so having the opportunity to have a more casual time and have a drink and a chat at the bar again is what works best for the venue.
Looking ahead at other opportunities for Dap & Co, Baturo said: “Littlefinger said it best in Games of Thrones, ‘chaos is a ladder’ there is some turmoil in the marketplace and so opportunities do arise and we are always looking out for those, whether or not we take the opportunity is another things, but we haven’t stopped looking.
“It would have to be a really good opportunity, and really good opportunities are hard to turn down, but for the moment if it’s not a ‘fuck yes’ then it’s a ‘no’.”
And that’s a great way to look at many things in the current climate.